Many Millennials are Plagued with Racism. Young people increasingly engaging in racist antics

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Elwood Watson, Ph.D.

Jun 4, 2019 · 6 min read

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It seems that racial invective by White supremacists and their sympathizers is skyrocketing these days, which is infecting younger generations like a fast spreading virus. Consider just a few of the outrageous racial antics we’ve recently observed from members of the Millennial generation:

Who could forget the horror of Charlottesville, Virginia? Let’s recall the searing and chilling images of a group of approximately 300 young White men (and some women) in khaki pants and polo shirts carrying tiki torches and chanting:

These radical right-wing White Supremacists and neo-Nazi extremists marching at night in the city which slave owner Thomas Jefferson called home — while passionately proclaiming a vigorous defense of their Caucasian heritage — is still deeply etched in our minds.

Before that, the year 2015 gave us a group of loudmouth, abhorrent University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers chanting obnoxious, racially inflammatory lyrics on a bus as they headed toward a social function.

That same year also gave witness to Dylann Storm Roof, a 21 year old misfit, drifter and White supremacist sympathizer who took it upon his mentally unhinged self to sadistically slaughter nine church worshiping citizens (the majority of them senior citizens) as well as state senator, Clementa C. Pinckney, at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

What each of these retrograde individuals had in common was the fact that they are Millennials (or Generation Y).

Racist Invective

Millennials represent the large demographic of men and women born between 1981–1998. The only good news, if any, about the aforementioned racial atrocities is that there was a steep price to pay for the perpetrators.

To wit:

In addition to being Millennials (which is not bad in and of itself), one disturbing commonality each of these men and women had was that they seemingly had no problem engaging in egregious racist behavior that many of us equate with White supremacy.

Truth be told, many of us who are people of color — especially those of us who have reached middle age (over 45) — are hardly surprised there are Whites who harbor deep racial animus toward non-Whites.

Progressively Tolerant?

For the few non-White people in this category, particularly Blacks — and I assume their percentage is virtually negligible — I am not sure what planet they have been living on, or when they awakened from their comatose state.

What is notable and alarming is that this group of young adults were/are supposed to be the generation that was more progressive and tolerant than others, if not outright accepting of those who were distinctively different from them.

What happened?

Statistics and research indicate that Millennials are much more likely to avidly embrace and harbor progressive views on issues such as environmental protections, redistribution of wealth, LGBTQ rights, abortion, drug use and other liberal or left leaning policies (see study above).

However, when it comes to racial matters, Millennials are not much different than previous, older generations.

In essence, a sizable number of young people have channeled and adopted the racially biased values of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Given the fact that many people are deeply influenced by the environment they reside in, as well as other encroaching factors, these results should not come an abrupt surprise.

None of us, especially those of us who work in academia, can abnegate the abundant number of racial incidents that have roiled college campuses over the past few years — from Ivy League institutions to prestigious small liberal arts colleges.

Some campuses became so racially hostile that a number of administrators and college presidents have stepped down from their positions (forcefully or voluntarily).

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Beyond Code Words

The truth is that even outside of the ivy-covered walls and leafy campuses of academia, the mainstream public cannot feign blind or willful ignorance to the increasingly ugly antics of some younger White people.

Young White teenage kids recording videos of themselves espousing racially bigoted, vile language and posting them to Youtube, Snapchat, Pinterest and various other social media sites is alarming.

High school students using code words to refer to their non-White classmates in racially demeaning and derogatory terms is inappropriate, to say the least. Certain Millennial employees referring to their non-White co-workers as: “monkeys” and “apes” and “ beasts” and “ugly” and “stupid” and “ragheads” and “gooks” is beyond offensive.

The racially disturbing incidents go on and on.

A number of studies do reveal that Millennials, on average, are more racially tolerant than their predecessors. This is likely due to the fact that a disproportionate percentage of them are more likely to be non-White.

Indeed, the number of biracial or multi-racial individuals in this category far exceeds any other age demographic, with the exception of Generation Z (the youngest demographic) or post-Millennials. However, it’s questionable whether White Millennials share the same level of tolerance shown by their non-White counterparts.

Research shows that the majority of people of color are more inclined to harbor progressive viewpoints, in particular on social issues.

When it comes to economic issues the picture is slightly more muddied, as some younger Blacks (not the majority) tend to lean more to the political right. That’s because they tend to be more suspicious of the public safety net and view certain social programs with an ambivalent eye.

Such multi-racial factors of the Millennial demographic should make for interesting and intriguing debates as time progresses and these young people mature.

Final Thoughts

Some blame President Trump for the recent state of fractured racial affairs — and he certainly is responsible for dividing Americans by race and otherwise.

In an era where resurgent White nationalism is rampant, there is no doubt that our current commander-in-chief has adamantly, eagerly — and, arguably, gleefully — provoked and stroked the economic, social and racial resentments of a wide swath of insecure Whites across the generational spectrum.

Yet racism has been a pernicious force and malignant form of societal cancer in America long before Trump or any of us were born.

That being said, Trump has certainly utilized and perversely exploited racist, sexist and xenophobic animus to his political advantage. This is a sad and disturbing commentary on the current state of affairs.

We can only hope that most racially progressive folk, who are older and wiser, have the wherewithal and/or desire to attempt to persuade our younger brethren about the history and critical importance of racial equality and social justice to a well functioning democracy.

We need to convey to Millennials that embracing a life that is filled with racial diversity and cultural pluralism is a major asset, and that striving to reach for our “better angels” is most desirable.

It is crucial that we have this conversation with Millennials now. The stability and eventual survival of our nation may depend on it.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is professor, author and public speaker. His forthcoming book, Keepin’ It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America, was published by the University of Chicago Press . You can contact him via twitter at @bleachbred


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Elwood Watson, Ph.D.

Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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Historian, public speaker, social-cultural critic. Professor of African American and Gender Studies, Post-WWII U.S. History, at East Tennessee State University.

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